"I tell you the truth,
Whatever you did for one
of the least of these brothers
of mine, you did it for me"
The following story by a missionary kid (MK) is printed with permission.
My Thoughts and Feelings About Cambodia
By John T. Sproul Jr.
I WAS STUNNED when my parents told me that we were moving to Cambodia. We were living in Lynden, Washington, a beautiful town in the Northwest. Just around seven months ago, my dad had graduated from S. I. B. I. This was were you could learn to become a preacher.
But okay, we didn’t move there for nearly a year. In Stockton, California, Central Church of Christ wanted to support us into going to Cambodia. I would’ve never even heard of the place if not for our neighbors across the street. They were Cambodian.
Cambodia? What kind of place was it? I knew nothing of it, except now it was the number one thing in my life—whether I liked it or not. Now, instead of talk-ing about, “Mom, what’s for dinner,” it was, “Johnny, in Cambodia…” you know, stuff like that. As soon as people found out about it, that’s all they wanted to talk about, and I knew that I couldn’t escape it.
I was mad, hurt, and jealous. Mad because this would be the seventh and eighth moves of my life—and I was 14 at the time. Since 1998, our family has moved every two years, which is very tough. Always saying hello and good-bye, there were a lot of emotions involved.
But we would not move until March, to Stockton that is. It was around sum-mer or so when I found out, so I had a few months to enjoy Lynden.
Then, my dad and mom started reading about the place, books, now I knew about the Khmer Rouge, about a horrid man named Pol Pot, stuff I never knew even existed. This was all new to me, and for awhile, I didn’t know what to do with it.
So, this is the year 2004, and I enjoyed the baseball playoffs, watching the Red Sox end their 86-year drought, celebrate Christmas, and the New Year, but March was sneaking up on me. One day, it pounced on me.
Boxes were being packed. All our stuff was. I was resentful. My room didn’t get packed until three or four days until we moved, and when I refused, my dad said to me, “John, we’re moving, that’s all there is to it.” So, my room got packed.
It’s 2005 now, and we move. Good-byes aren’t super hard, because this summer, we’ll visit here again, so the real good-byes will come when we leave in November. We drive to Stockton, and in our suburban, my sister, Sophia, my mom and me, and my kitten, Midnight. My dad and brother, Jake, get the Budget, the moving truck. Off we go, to Stockton, California…
We had visited Stockton before we had moved, so I knew the people there, making the move less difficult.
But I need to talk about my three feelings—mad, hurt, and jealous. I’ve listed the mad, and the hurt was when I was leaving home. Nothing is ever going to replace Lynden as home, nothing. That’s what hurt. I was leaving home, and it was very, very hard.
Jealous, because when I look at my friends, I am jealous. Of what they have and the life they live. They live in one place, and never moved, and me?
My best friend, Britton Richardson, asked me that I could try out for the Lynden Lions baseball team, it was a High School team. Eagerly I accepted, and I was about to when the bomb dropped, we were moving. So I wouldn’t play baseball with him, or the Lions.
Stockton is one of the worst places I’ve ever lived in. But the church was great. The Youth Group was great. But, I never really got to know them. Oh, there were a few that I got to know pretty well, but for the most part, I didn’t. So in a way, those six months were torture. I felt like an outsider. I never went up to anyone and introduced myself, so I brought this on myself.
Well, as we’re adapting to the church and the city, I’m occupied with school and baseball. Yep, thanks to a member of the church, I got signed to play for Babe Ruth baseball. We played 15 games, but our season ended at 7-8, a disappointment. But I got to play, which was the main thing.
Summer brought many great things. We went up to Washington State, and I got to see my family and friends. I went with my uncle and cousin to see some Mariners games, and they won all three that I attended!
That summer was one of the best in my entire life. I was baptized at the camp that Stockton held yearly, so this was another wonderful thing I can write down. It was great, but then we had to go back, but we would be back again—in November…
The church was glad to see us again, but I still felt lost, and an outsider. Fortunately, we were out soon enough, and I remember during that road trip, I watched the World Series.
This time around, it was even better to be with family and friends. I made the most out of my time, and it was terrific. I had some good talks with them, and when my dad said we were going to visit in April, I couldn’t wait…
But November doesn’t last forever, only 30 days. We were at my grandma’s house in Seattle, and we took off to Taipei, Taiwan. From there, we went to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I remember flying over Cambodia, and seeing how dry and brown it looked.
I started noticing that my throat was feeling sore, but I thought nothing of it—until we got to our hotel. It was very sore, and I was in misery. I was homesick, suffering from culture shock, and my throat was so sore, I could barely swallow. Those first few days in Phnom Penh were the worst days in my life.
My dad had gotten us a house, so we checked it out, but our shipment was not coming—for three weeks we would have to wait, so that was hard. We were so glad when it finally came! Even though I despised the country, at least the comforts of home eased the pain.
Well, we celebrated Christmas here, but it turned out much better than I thought it would. On Christmas Eve, we opened our presents, and on Christmas Day, we invited everyone down the street. Partners in Progress is just three houses from us, so all the teachers that were there came over, and Christmas Day was very fun. It was one of the best Christmases I had ever had, even though it was in Cambodia.
New Year’s comes and goes, and 2006 rattles on. It’s here are am going to describe some events.
My dad had taken me to the villages a few times, and that was good. I got to see how they lived.
What happened January was something I could never forget…
Joe and Teresa Hickey and Linda Legault came to visit us from Washington. They went to our church in Ferndale, Portal Way Church of Christ. When they had arrived, we went to the Killing Fields.
Now, this was very hard. The Killing Fields were shocking. There was this tower, and inside it, were around 11 or 12 stories of skulls. It was pretty gruesome, considering that the majority of them were cracked or smashed open. I found out later how they got that way.
When we went through the paths, there were big holes. At first I thought that they were mines had exploded, but our guide said that they were dug up graves. I felt sick.
There were signs that said “Mass Graves”, and our guide explained how these people died. Some were put over the grave, and a soldier would take a palm branch and cut their throat open, and let the blood pour, and they left them to die.
There was this tree, and the sign said that they hung a microphone here to drown out the groans of the people.
And of course, nail pegs in the trees. I had no idea what they did—until our guide told us. They Khmer Rouge soldiers, who’s age averaged from 12 to 16 year-s, would take babies, or young children, and bash their heads against the peg. It was very hard to take in.
Well, as we walked to the signs that described these things, we noticed that there were bones in the pathway. There were a few arm bones and leg bones, and one rib bone I saw.
I read the sign, and it talked about Pol Pot and his soldiers. The sign said, “They may have looked like humans, but their hearts were the hearts of demons.” What drove these men to such slaughter?
After that, we had lunch, and my dad, Sophia, and Jake went home while the rest of us went to, I think it’s called Toul Sleay, or something like it. It’s better known as S-21.
When I looked around, I saw three buildings, and there were rooms, and in these rooms one prisoner stayed in, shackled to a bed.
Originally, the prison was a High School, but then it got switched to a torture chamber. There was this one device that was used in school to strengthen the arms or body, but the Khmer Rouge soldiers used it to hang prisoners upside down, until all the blood rushed to their head, and they became unconscious. Then, they would dunk them in headfirst into this filthy water, most likely sewer water, and the smell would wake them up, and the soldiers could continue their interrogation.
There was barbed wire all around the windows of this other building, and the sign said that it was to prevent the prisoners from committing suicide. Man, these
men knew how to torture these poor people.
There were a lot of photographs inside, mostly of the prisoners. Some were graphic, however. One of them had a man without a face…
All these prisoners were stone-faced. There was no hope written in there faces. Nothing.
Well, we continued through, and here were some paintings. They were hard to look at. One was where this man had his wrists shackled to a tub, and the soldiers were letting him drown. Another was where soldiers would toss babies in the air and then shoot them. Or they would bash their heads against the iron pegs in the trees. Some got lashed to death, or had hot pliers rip out pieces of flesh, or would get five jabs of an electric shocker. They had a display of all the torture weapons, like pliers, shovels, electric shockers, guns, etc.
After that, I was numb when we went to the van. I don’t remember going home, I know that we just got there. Thoughts were crowding in my head. Why had Pol Pot and his men done this? What drove men to such madness, such torture? Were they men, or were they monsters? Animals? I don’t know, except that they sure didn’t act like human beings. Probably because they weren’t.
It took a few days to recover from the shock, but I still remember them. It’s hard to forget.
Well, some missionaries come to visit us, from Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. There are seven of them, and I enjoyed talking to them. I hoped they enjoyed talking to me. They are really neat people, and I was very glad that I could get to know them. We went to the villages together, and there we saw how poor Cambodia really is. They have almost nothing. I was amazed at the poverty of these people. It was hard to believe.
Well, after we left, my dad said that the next week he and I could go out to the village we just visited. I’ll try and pronounce it, Prey Tick Tongue. We would go out and lay down some drip irrigation, to help grow their plants, and provide food for them. I accepted.
The next day, the seven went out to where I had been a week ago—the Killing Fields and S-21. When they got back, David Allen, who’s a missionary in Thailand, talked to me about it. We discussed it, and I asked him what was harder for him, the Killing Fields, or the prison? He answered, “I don’t know, I’ll have to wait a few days to see.”
We both knew how poor Cambodia was, because of the war and of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot was supposed to make Cambodia a better place, but he made it worse! When I look around, and see what’s around me, I think, “He’s responsible for all this!” Nothing can change my mind about it.
After the seven left of Siem Reap, I went with my dad to Prey Tick Tongue. I’ll just call it PTT. Anyways, we helped them lay down a drip irrigation. Kim-Som, who’s the preacher at TNT, another village we visit, came with us, and was our translator. While my dad and I lay down the rubber tubes, which were the irrigation, he built a stand that would hold the bucket. At the bottom of the bucket, there was this filter that would filter out the bad water, and go to the plants. I was glad that we could help them.
After that, they invited to stay and eat. My dad had some of the coconut juice and palm sugar, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to get sick. It’s hard to be polite and consider your health at the same time. Fortunately, they weren’t offended—I hoped.
Here, I realized something. We have so much, and they have so little. You know, as an American, I complained back at home. Yeah, know I’m ashamed of it. Why should I complain? I have a great family, great friends. I have good health, and a roof to sleep under, food to eat. I complained? What? It’s easy to say, “Oh, I want those cool Nike shoes, or the newest video game,” but why should I want those things? I mean, there’s no reason to complain. Those people at the village, they have very little. Food is scarce, the water is bad, their homes are shacks, and they just don’t complain. They make the best of what they have, while I, who am very fortunate to have all these things that I listed, go, “I wish I had this, that, or those.”
I never went through a Khmer Rouge. I wasn’t taken a prisoner. I didn’t get dragged to a field of hell, where I got my throat slit, my head bashed, or go to a prison and slowly die of starvation. I didn’t get bits of flesh torn from my body, or get lashed, electrocuted, or hung upside down, and then getting dunked in filthy muck. I didn’t drown in a tub, shackled to a tub. The Cambodians had to go through all of this. They went through the stabs. They went through the dunking, drowning, being lashed at, or getting their throats slit. They had to endure all these things, while I didn’t. I have everything I could want. True, I’m in a country I don’t want to be in. I’d rather be back in Lynden. There I had it all. But God called us here, and we must answer him. When you read the history, see it with your own eyes, you know why we are here. I know these people are scarred badly by these tragedies. This is amazing, shocking, what happened here 35 years ago. I now thank God for taking care of me, watching out for me, making sure that I have enough. Living here is tough, I know it is. I wish I could be back in Lynden, but we’re here for a purpose. I know that, and understand it.
Well, that just about concludes my little story. I’m not trying to pour guilt on anyone. I’m just trying to make everyone see, that we have a lot, and they have so little. Know that you’re blessed, that God loves you and cares for you. We are so fortunate to not have had to go through this torture. Thank God for his blessings. Thank You.
John T. Sproul Jr.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Please pray for Cambodia and those Christians who have gone to minister to the least of these.